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How to manage stress: You can’t be all things to all people, so it’s okay to disappoint them

We’d all rather live without stress, but that’s impossible. If we can learn how to manage it, stress can actually be quite a positive thing

Stress is how we react when we feel under pressure or threatened. It usually happens when we are in a situation that we don’t feel we can manage or control. Not all stress is bad, however. “The thing about stress is that it’s normal,” says Liz O’Driscoll, psychotherapist with Affinity Counselling and member of the Irish Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy. “In an ideal world we’d like to live stress-free, but that’s never going to happen. Stress is in us physiologically and we need it. It can be quite a positive thing and it can help us get things done. It’s just about managing it,” says O’Driscoll.

Question the narrative

Things can feel stressful, but what we tell ourselves about a situation can add to our stress. “Part of managing stress is questioning our narrative, or what we are telling ourselves about what is actually going on,” says O’Driscoll. “Stress is our physiological response to what we perceive is going on in our world.”

Check your expectations

Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. “Our stress can be a response to our perceived expectations of ourselves, or what we think we should be able to do, the standard we feel we should be able to meet, and quite often we can’t,” says O’Driscoll. “It’s that expectation we can have of ourselves, and sometimes that expectation is based on comparing ourselves to others. It can appear that everyone else has a handle on things and we haven’t,” says O’Driscoll. “The world is moving full belt again after two years of a different kind of life. We can look out into the world through social media, or at our neighbours and friends, and they all seem to be managing great and we feel we are not. In comparison, we become not good enough.”

“Other times we are making assumptions about other people’s expectations of us and the consequences if we don’t meet them.”


Push back

Manage your stress by understanding that you can’t be all things to all people. “Understand that you are not being selfish and it’s not the worst thing in the world if somebody is disappointed. It’s okay to disappoint them,” says O’Driscoll. “If you go through life desperately trying not to disappoint you are depleting your own resources. Put on your own life jacket first, because if you don’t you are no good to anyone else.”


If you are feeling overwhelmed the most important thing you can do is breathe properly, says O’Driscoll. Try 7-11 breathing, she advises. It’s as simple as it sounds. Breathe in to the count of seven, so that your stomach pushes out. Then breathe out to the count of 11. “Your blood pressure comes down, your heart will settle. It rejigs your brain and brings you back to the now. Physically that has a huge impact on us.” If it gets to the point where your stress is hard to manage, it is impacting on your family life, your health or your sleep, talk to an accredited therapist, she says. “It’s nothing to be nervous of. It’s something to be curious about.”

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about homes and property, lifestyle, and personal finance